How to enhance student outcomes while strengthening transit? An Analysis of LA Metro’s GoPass Fareless pilot program

Effective and affordable transportation remains an obstacle for many low income and students of color because high-performing schools are often located in more affluent neighborhoods, away from where they reside. As highlighted in a 2017 Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) report, transporting students is expensive, representing close to 3.5% of all K-12 expenditures for the 2017-2018 school year. As school budgets have shrunk, school districts have tightened eligibility requirements for free transport to school, shifting the transportation burden to parents. As highlighted in Wexler et al. (2021), although a number of cities around the world have adopted programs that provide students free or discounted access to public transit, few academic studies have evaluated these programs (notable exceptions include McDonald et al., 2004; Gase et al., 2014; Vincent et al., 2014; Wexler et al., 2021). LA Metro’s GoPass Fareless Pilot program for K-14 students, which launched on October 1, 2021, offers a golden opportunity to better understand some of the impacts of free transit pass programs on student outcomes. In this context, this research project has four main goals. First, Contractor will analyze how (when and where) students use their pass. Second, Contractor will explore the socio-economic characteristics (e.g., age, gender, household income, race, Hispanic status) of the students who enroll in LA Metro’s K-14 free transit pass program. Third, Contractor will quantify the impacts of free transit passes on various school outcomes, including attendance, and graduation rates. The Contractor will work with selected participating schools in LA county, which includes the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). And fourth, building on the study conducted in 2019 by Saphores et al. (2020), Contractor will survey California transit agencies (with a focus on members of the California Transit Association) to understand what free or discounted transit pass they offer to K-14 students, the potential role of contactless payment mechanisms to enhance health, and what their plans are to boost ridership following COVID-19. Understanding the contribution that transit can make to school outcomes (particularly graduating rates) via free transit pass programs is critically important. Indeed, a study from the American Council on Education, found that 90% of Americans without a high school diploma never earn more than $40,000 a year (for reference, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the 2016-2020 median household income in LA County was approximately $71,000). Moreover, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that unemployment rates drop substantially with education.


  • English


  • Status: Active
  • Funding: $95268
  • Contract Numbers:


  • Sponsor Organizations:

    Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology

    University Transportation Centers Program
    Department of Transportation
    Washington, DC  United States  20590
  • Managing Organizations:

    METRANS Transportation Consortium

    University of Southern California
    Los Angeles, CA  United States 
  • Project Managers:

    Hong, Jennifer

    Bruner, Britain

  • Principal Investigators:

    Saphores, Jean-Daniel Maurice

  • Start Date: 20230701
  • Expected Completion Date: 20240630
  • Actual Completion Date: 0
  • USDOT Program: University Transportation Centers

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01899790
  • Record Type: Research project
  • Source Agency: Pacific Southwest Region University Transportation Center
  • Contract Numbers: 65A0674
  • Files: UTC, RIP
  • Created Date: Nov 17 2023 11:09PM